Jokowi's Panicky Politics

Frayed Nerves in Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo leaves a forum in Hong Kong, May 2017. Bobby Yip / Reuters

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s problems would have seemed far-fetched less than a year ago. Then the president, widely known as Jokowi, was celebrated for his democratic credentials and hailed as Indonesia’s first leader from outside the Suharto-era elite. Now, critics and supporters alike are wondering how secure Indonesia actually is from authoritarian backsliding.

The catalyst for this reversal was Jokowi’s mid-July announcement of an expansion of his government’s discretionary power to ban civil society organizations. Although the move is intended to project strength by taking on the Islamic groups that brought down his political ally Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, the former governor of Jakarta, the ban threatens freedom of association for all citizens and is unlikely to make him more secure. It also has prompted growing criticism and concern about an otherwise popular leader. 


By mid-2016, Jokowi—the furniture-salesman-turned-politician who was then in his

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